Psalm 106:6–12; Ruth 1; Luke 23:1–12

Psalm 106:6–12: Following the invocation of the first five verses, there is confession of the sins of the poet’s generation: “We offended like our fathers, we wronged,/ we did evil.” (6) These three words, ‘we did evil’ are powerful for their brevity. We can dress up our sins in pretty language and complex rationalization, but in the end our sinful acts all have their roots in this simple three-word phrase.

Recalling “our fathers,” the poet takes us back to the Exodus and the sins of the Israelite fathers, particularly the events of chapters 14 and 15 of the eponymous book: “Our fathers in Egypt/ did not grasp Your wonders./ They did not call to mind Your many kindnesses/ and rebelled by the sea, at the Sea of Reeds.” (7) I’m sure the poet has the famous complaint of the Israelites in mind when they said, “Was it for lack of graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness?” (Ex. 14:11)

Despite their grumbling—and doubtless ours—God is merciful: “Yet He rescued them for His name’s sake,/ to make known His might.” (8) I really like the concept of God’s mercy being a direct demonstration of God’s might.

The poet’s description of the crossing of the sea evokes the power of God’s rescue: “He blasted the Sea of reeds, and dried it up,/ and He led them through the deep as through wilderness.” (9) The idea of the crossing of the sea being the first wilderness of many yet to come provides a fresh view of what that crossing must have felt like. A sea bottom is certainly a form of wilderness.

God is our rescuer: for the ancient Israelites, for the poet’s generation—and for us. There is no more dramatic and tangible description of God’s rescue than the Exodus story: “And He rescued them from the land of the hostile/ and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.” (10). The Israelite foes were literally covered over, just as God covers our own sins, and as so many psalms plead, covers our enemies: “And the waters covered their foes,/ not one of them remained.” (11)

The response to rescue is worship: “And they trusted His words,/ they sang His praise.” This verse is certainly a reference to the “Song of the Sea” in Exodus 15.

Ruth 1: If the metaphor for Joshua and Judges is riding the swirling rapids of an angry river of grotesquery and evil, the book of Ruth is like arriving a placid pool of pellucid water. I think the editors of the Hebrew Bible placed Ruth here not only for historical chronology, but to provide us a break from the unrelenting drama and certainly the evil that is the conclusion of Judges.

The story is simple. Elimelech of Bethlehem, who is married to Naomi “went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons.” (1) His two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. But Elimelech and his two sons die, leaving three widows: Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth.

Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem but tells her daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, …[and] grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” (9). Naomi realizes that if they return to Judah, there is no way that a Hebrew man would marry a Moabite woman.

Naomi realizes that by returning to Judah she will live the destitute life of a widow but wants something better for the two younger women, believing their only hope is to marry again to Moabite men: “Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband.” (12) Orpah takes Naomi’s advice and decides to return to Moab: “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.” (14)

Ruth is resolute in remaining with Naomi and in one of the most beautiful songs in the Bible, sings,
Do not press me to leave you
    or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
    and your God my God.” (16)

Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem only to be met by its incredulous inhabitants: “the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”” (19) Then Naomi sings, but her song is one of bitterness toward God:
  “I went away full,
    but the Lord has brought me back empty;
why call me Naomi
    when the Lord has dealt harshly with me,
    and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (21)

There is such beauty intertwined with pathos in this chapter that so wonderfully describes the human condition: loss and return; bitter tears and sublime singing; and above all, the possibility of a new life.

Luke 23:1–12: Jesus is brought before Pilate and the Jews make the indictment as harsh as possible, accusing Jesus of treachery and sedition through exaggeration and lies: “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” (2) Pilate asks Jesus if he is king of the Jews and Jesus replies with the same non-answer as he did in front of the temple officials: “You say so.” (3) Pilate promptly announces, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” (4). Desperate to get Jesus out of their hair once and for all, the leaders double down the indictment accusing Jesus of stirring up “the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.” (5)

Pilate asks if Jesus is a Galilean, and uses this jurisdictional excuse to palm the Jesus problem off on Herod, who is in charge of Galileans. Herod’s quite excited to have Jesus come before him as “he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign.” (8) Jesus stands mute before Herod while the scribes and priests “stood by, vehemently accusing him.” (10) Herod and his troops join in the mockery and clothe Jesus in “an elegant robe.” But having no basis of indictment because of Jesus’ refusal to answer, Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate.

At this juncture I have to believe that the scribes and priests were becoming desperate since they doubtless thought Pilate and Herod would cooperate readily in their plan. Luke also reveals his attitude toward the Jews, whom he describes in harsher terms as being vehement and mocking Jesus. Pilate, at this point anyway, is simply being an impartial actor. But the Jewish accusers are resolute and about to create a serious problem for Pilate.

As is frequently his wont, Luke inserts a little sidebar into the main events of the story: “That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.” (12) Luke’s clear implication is that both Pilate and Herod bear responsibility for what is about to occur. But the irony that Jesus would be the catalyst of a friendship blossoming between the two men who were enablers of the most infamous event in history is not lost here.

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